Castellow et al., (1990) ‘Effects of Physical Attractiveness of the plaintiff (victim) and defendant in sexual harassment judgement’, Journal of Social Personality and Behaviour 5, 547-62.
This is the first study we will be looking at from the ‘witness appeal’ section of ‘reaching a verdict’, as part of your OCR A2 Forensic Psychology course. It is further categorised into ‘attractiveness.’
A myriad of studies have proposed the notion that the attractiveness of the defendant, or of the victim can have an impact on jury verdicts. The more attractive the defendant, the less guilty verdicts.
Think of disney films, can you tell who is the baddy without them saying a word?
Asch (1946) – Suggests that when people know one good thing about a person, then a ‘halo’ of pleasant characteristics is imagined. This is true for the antithesis. This is called ‘the halo effect.’
Dion (1972) – Suggested that ‘what is beautiful is good.’ Attractive people are more likely to be viewed as having attractive personalities.
Video of ‘the halo effect:’
This study had three aims:
- To test the hypothesis that an attractive defendant is less likely to be seen as guilty.
- To test the hypothesis that when the victim is attractive, the defendant is more likely to be found guilty.
- To look for any gender differences in jury verdicts depending on attractiveness.
Method and Design
A laboratory experiment of a mock trial.
Participants were randomly assigned using an independent measures design.
71 males and 74 female students: who participated for extra credit in their introductory psychology classes at East Carolina University.
Participants were told that they would be reading a sexual harassment case and after would have to answer questions on it. With the case were attached photographs of the victim and defendant previously categorised as attractive or unattravtive by a panel on a scale of 1 to 9 where 9 was very attractive and 1 was very unattractive.
The dependent variable was measured by the answer to the following question: ‘Do you think Mr. Radford is guilty of sexual harassment?’ Towards the end of the case booklet, the participants were asked to rate the defendant and the victim on 11 bipolar scales, such as dull–exciting, nervous–calm, warm–cold, etc…
Analysis of the ratings revealed that physically attractive defendants and victims were positively rated on other personality variables as well. When the defendant was attractive, guilty verdicts were found 56% of the time against 76% for an unattractive defendant.
When the victim was attractive, the guilty verdict followed 77% of the time with 55% for the unattractive victim. No significant gender differences were found and both sexes were equally influenced by attractiveness.
Although the findings come from a mock trial, when applied in a courtroom it seems appearance does indeed have a powerful effect and this finding has been supported by much other research. A defendant would be well advised to make the best of their appearance when appearing in court.
Castellow et al (1990) Evaluation
+ Representativeness – the sample was somewhat representative of the wider population in terms of gender.
+ Validity – the independent variable was clearly manipulated with few confounding variables.
+ Inter-rater reliability – a panel of judges rated the attractiveness of the photographs.
+ Construct Validity – the results support the halo effect.
+ Usefulness – this research is useful for defendants – they should make the best of their appearance in order to reduce the chance of the jury returning a guilty verdict.
+ Reliability – both the large sample and the methodology makes this experiment highly reliable.
– Demand Characteristics – As the participants were given course credit for their participation, we can argue that some of the results may be due to participants trying to act in a way desirable to the experimenters.
– Ethnocentrism – the study only used American Psychology students. This is not a representative sample and therefore cannot be generalised to other countries or even the legal system in the USA.
– Generalisability – as the case was about sexual harassment, we cannot say that results would be generalisable to other types of crimes.
+ Quantitative Data – The quantitive data is easy to compere and analyse, which makes it easy to establish cause and effect through statistical significance.